“One domestic, at least, that may be spared”: Male Violence and Female Pet Keeping in Eliza Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless

“Duvaucel’s Squirrel” (ca. 1837) by Charles Hamilton Smith (1776–1859). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Scholarship concerning Eliza Haywood overwhelmingly bends towards misogyny and dismissal.  Since the publication of Kathryn King’s herculean Political Biography of Eliza Haywood (2012), scholars and students alike have begun to shift those decidedly problematic stances towards an appreciation of Eliza Haywood as an author integral to our understanding of eighteenth-century literature.  This still-emerging narrative runs counter to attempts to understand Haywood on a pre- and post-Dunciad, Alexander-Pope-defined timeline that has been cemented by centuries of conjectural scholarship and, at times, ad hominem attacks on Haywood’s person and supposedly lewd amatory writing.[i]  The assumption that Pope’s petty insults against Haywood caused a period of unproductive reclusion followed by a conservative reformation of her writing occlude and foreclose potential readings of Haywood’s writing which might prove liberating, progressive, or which simply object to the perpetuated fiction that Haywood was a hack, an amatory novelist turned moralist writer.  What follows, then, is an attempt to assist in curving Haywood’s critical arc and to continue the project of cataloguing the concerns present in her prose which make her a “slippery, fluid, multifarious, strategic, opportunistic, [and] chameleon-like writer” (King 195).

Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) follows the emotional maturation–a Bildungsroman with a British lilt–of the titular Betsy Thoughtless.  During the novel, between a parade of potential husbands and the interloping of her two brothers, Betsy receives a small pet squirrel from Mr. Trueworth, one of her many suitors.  This squirrel, Betsy’s beloved pet, becomes a focalizing object through which Haywood raises and explores the subjects of male aggression, women’s personal rights, and the value placed on animal life.  By examining the tenderness with which Trueworth crafts his gift and the economics associated with eighteenth-century pet ownership, we can better understand how Haywood intentionally frames the animal abuse perpetrated by Betsy’s first husband, Mr. Munden, against her pet squirrel as one motivated by Munden’s anxieties about both the state of his household economy and his wife’s undivided attention.  Furthermore, by contextualizing Betsy’s overt concern for the well-being of her pet within the anti-cruelty movement of late eighteenth-century Britain, we can begin to see the complexity with which Haywood positions Betsy’s modes of self-activism relative to the legislation that would follow the novel’s publication some decades later.  While John Richetti cites much of the same evidence found in this analysis, such as the economic importance of the squirrel and the shocking realism with which Haywood writes Munden’s “male rage,” in his chapter comparing the histories of Fielding and Haywood, Richetti wields these examples to a decidedly more trivializing end (“Histories” 256).[ii]

Writing in 1791, Ralph Beilby broadly waxes about squirrels, “This beautiful little animal is equally admirable for the neatness and elegance of its formation, as for its liveliness and activity” (352).  Though written after the publication of Betsy Thoughtless, this brief entry on squirrels illuminates the popular attitude toward the rodent and helps explain why Betsy is smitten with the squirrel Trueworth sends to her as a gift.  In the letter that accompanies the squirrel, Trueworth recalls Betsy’s delight at the sight of “the pretty tricks of a squirrel, which a lady in the company [at Oxford] had on her arm” (Thoughtless 137).  Trueworth downplays both the romantic and monetary significance of his gift calling it “so trifling an offering” (Thoughtless 137).  Trueworth’s self-deprecation and downplaying of his gift to Betsy is indicative of his overall disposition:  polite and mostly inoffensive.

As Betsy and the women in her company examine the squirrel, they begin to recognize that the gift is a significant gesture on Trueworth’s part.  The narrator describes the squirrel as “doubtless, the most beautiful creature of its kind, that could be purchased” with a “chain . . . [of] gold, the links [of which were] very thick, and curiously wrought” (Thoughtless 138).  The trappings of the pet squirrel come to represent several desirable qualities found in Trueworth’s character.  As Ingrid Tague argues, “Collars, like human clothing, could be the sites of luxurious display, sentimental attachment, or modest utility” (41).  Aside from its practicality, the leash and collar of the squirrel simultaneously displayed “the elegance of the donor’s taste . . . [and his] respectful passion” while also conspicuously displaying Trueworth’s economic prosperity (Thoughtless 138).

Haywood’s preoccupation with the description of the squirrel and its accessories is indicative of a larger trend of fashionable pet keeping during the eighteenth century.  As Tague notes, “On some level . . . pets were fashionable consumer goods” at that time (92).[iii]  English pet shops began selling more exotic species while also appealing to less adventurous consumers with commonplace animals like squirrels, whose appeal stems from their “attractive characteristics as small, clever, and fairly clean animals” (Tague 92). The squirrel becomes a token, not only of the attention that Trueworth pays to Betsy’s desires but also his ability to financially support those desires.  Despite the implications of Trueworth’s gift, Betsy later marries “a gentleman named Mr. Munden,” a lover initially described as “soft and complaisant” (Thoughtless 295, 486).  His courting of Betsy does not involve the extravagant gift giving that characterized her relationship with Trueworth.  Rather, Munden conducts his courtship as shrewdly as possible and “with less love, perhaps, than many, who had addressed her” (Thoughtless 296).  At the incessant badgering of her older brothers, Betsy acquiesces to marry Munden, not for his displays of passion or affection, but because she has “gone too far with Mr. Munden to be able to go back with honour” (Thoughtless 484).  The timbre of Betsy’s engagement, then, is not wonder, as she felt at the sight of Trueworth’s gift, but tolerable consolation for having toyed with Munden for too long.

Soon, however, a “darkening gloom” overtakes their relationship, as Munden realizes that he cannot financially support Betsy’s lifestyle (Thoughtless 498).  Munden becomes “excessively parsimonious at home” and reduces Betsy’s pin money to such an inadequate sum that she is “without means to support her character” (Thoughtless 499).  This tension erupts in a series of arguments concerning Betsy’s spending and personal funds.  With a “surly look,” Munden expresses to Betsy his fear that “she [is] a bad economist” (Haywood 499).  By all accounts, Munden’s temper surprises Betsy who finds his demeanor “cold and indifferent” (Thoughtless 501).  The omniscient narrator details Munden’s belief that “a wife [is] no more than an upper servant, bound to study and obey,” and because Betsy’s objections to her pin money allotment threatens his control over her, Munden “fixe[s] his resolution to render himself absolute master” (Thoughtless 507).  Munden’s character, by this point, is diametrically opposed to Trueworth’s.

As Munden is “ready to burst with an inward malice,” the narrator reminds us of the gift Trueworth had made to Betsy, “a present of a squirrel . . . [her] first token of love” (Thoughtless 507).  The care she pays to the squirrel makes it the target of Munden’s wrath.  Whereas, Trueworth provided the squirrel, Munden acts to take it away permanently.  Munden grabs the squirrel “by the neck, and throw[s] it with his whole force against the carved work of the marble chimney” where the rodent’s “tender frame [is] dashed to pieces” (Thoughtless 507).  During this disturbing act of animal abuse, Munden delights in his destruction, “Here is one domestic, at least, that may be spared” (Thoughtless 507).  Munden betrays one of the specific reasons he killed the squirrel—to ease the household debt by ridding it of at least one expense.  As Tague notes, “pets embodied the worst excess of fashionable consumption, thanks to the fact that in addition to their status as fashionable goods, they were also literally consumers, draining resources” (94).  Betsy is deeply troubled by Munden’s action, “the massacre of so unhurtful a little creature” (Thoughtless 509).[iv]  It is not Trueworth’s connection to Betsy and the squirrel that causes Munden to kill it but, rather, the perceived overabundance of attention with which Betsy lavishes it–the pet she “always cherished”–and the cost of its maintenance (Thoughtless 507).

Despite the “splenetic and barbarous” nature of the murder drawing the righteous indignation of Betsy and potentially disturbing the modern reader, the social company that Munden and Betsy keep do not overtly condemn or vilify his actions (Thoughtless 509).  Even after Betsy tells Lady Trusty, a confidant, about the incident and suggests pursuing a legal separation from Munden, Lady Trusty impresses upon Betsy the “absolute necessity for a reconciliation” as “all you [Betsy] can accuse him of will not amount to a separation” (Thoughtless 511).  Because Munden views both his wife and her pet as his personal property, he believes that he is well within his legal rights to act against them as he sees fit, and to no small degree, he is correct.

Efforts to legislate animal abuse began to shift public sentiment concerning the well-being of non-human species at the end of the eighteenth-century, decades after the publication of Betsy Thoughtless.  These anticruelty movements were limited, though, and only “focused on working animals” and livestock (Tague 157).  David Perkins notes that while, for example, the reformation of prison conditions was championed by John Howard leading up to 1774, the “cause of animals did not enlist comparably dedicated persons” (44).[v]  Outrage over the abuse of domesticated pets “was still far in the future . . . for anticruelty advocates” and as Tague points out, “it would be reasonable . . . to envision the eighteenth-century as very distant from our own pet-loving culture” (157).  Rob Boddice highlights the laxity with which early anti-cruelty legislation was formulated claiming that “Very occasionally, the charge of cruelty had in mind the consequences done to specific animals” (15).[vi]  This is a significant part of Lady Trusty’s argument against separation; Betsy’s case against Munden rests on no real legal ground, as Munden did not actually break any contemporary law when he killed the squirrel.  According to Lady Trusty, attempting to separate from Munden would prove fruitless and potentially cause Betsy further harm.  Betsy’s concern and attempt to correct the abuse committed against her pet, however, is particularly uncharacteristic of the period.

While Haywood writes about pet keeping at other times, she does not write as frankly about the inhumanity of animal cruelty elsewhere in her bibliography.  In her novel, The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy (1753), Lady Speck dismisses the loss of a womanizer and “coxcomb,” Celadine, as akin to “the loss of a squirrel or monkey who has diverted one with its tricks” (208).  Here, the squirrel is dismissed as a mere bauble, easily forgotten once lost.  In the Epistles for the Ladies (1748), Hillaria writes to Clio, two eidolons Haywood assumes, asking whether or not a “Person, whose Pleasure is in the Company of a Dog, a Monkey, a Parrot, a Cat, a Horse, or any other Species of the Brute Creation, [can] be imagined to have Taste for the Conversation of Cherubs, Seraphs, and the rest of the Angelic Throng” (293-4).[vii]  While dismissive of those fashionable individuals that keep pets, Hillaria makes sure to clarify that she did not mean to offend Clio, who keeps “Tib, your little favourite Squirrel” for a pet (Epistles 294-5).  Hillaria appears to hold a similar view of pet keeping to that of Lady Speck and goes as far as to associate a lack of religiosity with those who excessively fawn and dote over pets.  An exception is made, however, for Clio’s squirrel, which Hillaria deems one of the “harmless Animals,” though, this does little to alter the overall tone of the letter which condescends greatly toward pet owners (Epistles 295).  While these figures do not abuse animals, they certainly share Munden’s belief that the attention given to animals, their lives, and their loss are ultimately inconsequential.

While writing The Wife (1755) as Mira, one of Haywood’s better known eidolons of The Female Spectator, we learn that “Among all the various foibles of which the softer sex are but too justly accus’d, I [Mira] know of none more preposterous than the immoderate fondness” given to pets of all varieties (96).[viii]  Mira then begins the first of several anecdotes that concern a wife who “is all the time playing with her lap-dog,” causing her to ignore her husband (Wife 96).  Mira quips that a man who endures this behavior is either “quite a fool, or endued with an uncommon share of philosophy and fortitude” and “if the latter, nothing but the most low contempt could restrain him from giving her some marks of his resentment, and throwing her favourite dog out of the window” (Wife 96).  While this story is likely meant to take advantage of an eighteenth-century “satirical convention of representing women taking personal offence at any perceived mistreatment of their pets,” as Theresa Braunschneider claims, there is little similarity between the reactions of the women in Mira’s anonymous stories and Betsy’s reaction to the deeply personal affront committed by Munden (43).[ix]

As they far better resemble Munden’s character, the men of Mira’s story do provide clearer insight into the reactionary nature of his animal abuse.  If one were to swap the dog for a squirrel, Mira would, in fact, describe the precise situation in which Betsy finds herself and, using the example given by Mira, we might better understand Munden’s intention when he murders Betsy’s squirrel.  Because Betsy pays, what Munden deems, a frivolous amount of money on and attention to the squirrel, he abuses her pet in lieu of physically harming Betsy and further reducing her pin money allowance.  The squirrel, thus, mediates the physical and economic harm done by Munden against Betsy.  Through the examples of animal abuse committed by the unnamed husband of Mira’s anecdote and Munden, Haywood convincingly frames marital aggression against animals as not only an exclusively male attack on a wife’s personal and economic autonomy but also a means of mediating a husband’s desire to physically assault his wife.  To return to the language of the text, if Munden continues to find Betsy’s spending excessive, she might easily become yet another “domestic . . . spared” (Thoughtless 507).

While Haywood’s depictions of pet keeping and animal cruelty vary from overwhelming dismissal to sincere concern, the latter impresses upon modern readers the potentially progressive nature of Haywood’s writing.  Betsy’s attempt to rectify her husband’s animal abuse and economic stricture through legal separation, though ultimately unsuccessful, as well as Haywood’s poetic deus ex that releases Betsy from her marriage through Munden’s death to seek out the newly widowed Trueworth, predate most historical attempts to condemn harm towards household pets.  Ultimately, if we are to begin bending Haywood’s critical arc towards an end which positions her as a “mistress of multiplicity,” we must embrace the contradictory viewpoints Haywood confronts in her writing as indicative, though not necessarily reflective, of her own complicated subject position as a female writer in the eighteenth century (King 195).

As Alexander Pettit notes in his introduction to The Wife, Haywood approaches the issue of wifehood through diverse means in equally diverse genres.  According to Pettit, such “Juxtapositions . . . suggest that although Haywood may have chosen to entertain certain socio-generic fantasies in her novels, she did not do so naively” (Works I.III 3).  Haywood’s writing is anything but linear or formulaic, and, as Pettit acknowledges, we must assume that Haywood did not include various depictions of pet keeping, as she did with marriage, without a reason for presenting these multiple subjectivities, fictional and practical alike.[x]  Thus, because writers were “denied the luxury of politically pure positions,” Haywood’s various writings on pet keeping across several genres sought to appeal to the multifaceted and multimodal audiences that consumed her writing (King 27).  Haywood’s distinct depictions of attitudes concerning pet keeping and animal abuse suggest that, rather than composing with a rote amatory method, she created narrative voices that were often at odds with one another to confront looming questions concerning the fragility and aggressivity of the male ego, the prospect of personal and economic autonomy for women, and the value of animal life in the eighteenth century.

Notes

[i] See James Sutherland’s edition of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad (Book II, lines 149-156) for this reference to Eliza Haywood.  I suggest Sutherland’s edition because he claims that “Pope’s satire [of Haywood] was merciless, but not undeserved” (443).  Much of the scholarship concerning Haywood presumes the purportedly devastating ramifications of these lines.  This is a relatively invariable trend in Pope scholarship.  However, King deftly rebuts scholarly work that relies heavily on Pope’s attack on Haywood as it “rests to an uncomfortable extent on readings of her life filtered through the detractions of her enemies as they are betted by present-day desires to give her an appealingly unconventional history” and relies heavily on “details drawn from the well-stocked cabinet of misogynistic satiric conventions” (5-6).

[ii] While Richetti certainly notes the “significant domestic realism” of the scene in “Histories by Eliza Haywood and Henry Fielding:  Imitation and Adaptation,” he places her work at odds with the writing of Henry Fielding, claiming that “Haywood’s interesting . . . exposure of ideological contradiction[s]” are the result of an imperfect imitation of Henry Fielding’s histories (255).  Richetti’s reading of Haywood is yet another example of scholarship undermining the importance of Haywood’s work through comparative, deprecating, and, misogynistic criticism. Ultimately, Richetti concludes that the squirrel “is nothing more nor less than an interesting prop” and that Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless, like the animal abuse scene, is “loose and opportunistic, [a] stringing together [of] striking scenes” which “Fielding doubtless would have disdained as literal-minded and vulgar, lacking true inventiveness” (“Histories” 258).  By contextualizing Haywood, not against the work or presumed opinions of her contemporaries, but against the craft and views of her own works, the conclusion of this analysis reveals the incredible wit and flexibility with which Haywood considered marriage and pet keeping–rather than deeming Haywood’s writing a defense of “a conventional bourgeois ideology of female subordination and sexual suppression” (“Histories” 255).

[iii] As Keith Thomas notes in Man and the Natural World:  A History of the Modern Sensibility, “By 1700 all of the symptoms of obsessive pet-keeping were in evidence [in Britain].  Pets were often fed better than the servants.  They were adorned with rings, ribbons, feathers and bells; and they became an increasingly regular feature of painted family groups” (117).  The ubiquity of pet keeping in the eighteenth century cannot be understated.

[iv] While the actions of Munden may come as a surprise to both Betsy and the modern reader, Erin Mackie claims in Rakes, Highwaymen, and Pirates:  The Making of the Modern Gentleman in the Eighteenth Century that the identified social class Munden inhabits–the gentleman–is one steeped in a history of criminality and skullduggery associated with rakes, highwaymen, and pirates.  Mackie notes that “especially in the case of the rake and the highwayman, unauthorized types often forward a claim to those very characteristics of gentility which the modern gentleman would monopolize” (4).  While not legally considered a criminal for his actions, the history that Mackie traces proves helpful when attempting to explain Munden’s cruelty towards Betsy and her pet.  Likewise, though Trueworth is deemed a gentleman, Mackie argues for an understanding of masculinity’s role in criminality and gentlemanliness which is by no means an assurance that every gentleman would act as Munden does in the text.

[v] Perkins similarly notes that the cause of anti-cruelty “was an effort that one might take up occasionally, episodically, among other projects, paying for a sermon on the subject, giving one, or getting up a petition, or introducing a bill in Parliament.  And then, in most cases, you went on to matter that concerned you more” (44).  Perkins identifies William Cowper’s 1774 poem The Task, which “strongly urged compassion for animals, weaving this virtue into [Cowper’s] powerful image of the good person and the good life,” as one of the later catalysts for the increased awareness of the anti-cruelty movement (45).

[vi] Boddice defines more clearly the charge of cruelty as one “of unmanliness, a charge of callousness, a charge of being uncivilized, on the one hand; cruelty was a masquerade for class interests, a vehicle for social control, an abhorrence of tradition or custom, on the other” (15).

[vii] The Epistles for the Ladies appears in the Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I, Vol. 2.

[viii] The Wife appears in the Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I, Vol. 3.  For more information concerning the role Mira plays in Haywood’s periodical The Female Spectator and female subjectivity in periodical culture, see Manushag Powell’s Performing Authorship in 18th-Century English Periodicals.  Powell claims that Haywood’s eidolons in The Female Spectator try “to make use of the traits any woman might use in navigating the social world . . . to educate by pleasing” (152).  One of these traits is, no doubt, the ability to learn from the mistakes of others.  Thus, Mira’s use of absurd and anecdotal tales of female pet keeping folly in Haywood’s conduct literature is both sadistically humorous and didactic.

[ix] Braunschneider elaborates further and in agreement with numerous other sources used here which claim that a woman’s pet was “an extension of its owner’s self . . . satirical depictions of women of fashion intimate that such narcissistic consumption could be the inevitable result of British involvement in world trade and cultural exchange” (43).

[x] While Haywood certainly leaned on a stock set of tropes for her writing, she did so no more frequently than her contemporaries.  The degree to which Haywood relies on stock figures and conceits is vastly overstated in lieu of properly examining the multiplicities of expression found in Haywood’s writing.  For an example of this maligned argument concerning Haywood’s allegedly formulaic style, see Richetti’s chapter “Popular Narrative in the Early Eighteenth Century:  Formats and Formulas” in which he claims, “Haywood produced a highly successful imitation of Manley’s secret history,” but dismisses Haywood as a non-political writer (a claim which King’s biography more than adequately proves false) whose “tremendous output of popular narrative during the 1720s repeats tirelessly the formulas of the amatory novella, occasionally extend to novel length” (“Formulas” 83).  Unable to admit that Haywood might be contributing to a literary tradition rather than simply poorly mimicking it, Richetti compartmentalizes and condescends, designating this form of amatory writing, “Haywoodian” (“Formulas” 91).

Works Cited

Beilby, Ralph.  A General History of Quadrupeds.  The Figures Engraved on Wood by T. Bewick.  2nd ed.  Newcastle upon Tyne, 1791.  Eighteenth Century Collections Online.  Gale.  Purdue University Libraries.  20 Apr. 2017.

Boddice, Rob.  A History of Attitudes and Behaviours Toward Animals in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain:  Anthropocentrism and the Emergence of Animals.  Lewiston:  Mellen, 2008.  Print.

Braunschneider, Theresa.  “The Lady and the Lapdog:  Mixed Ethnicity in Constantinople, Fashionable Pets in Britain.”  Ed. Frank Palmeri.  Humans and Other Animals in Eighteenth-Century British Culture:  Representation, Hybridity, Ethics.  Burlington:  Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006.  31-48.  Print.

Haywood, Eliza.  Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I.  Ed. Alexander Pettit and Christine Blouch.  Vol. 2.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2000.  Print.

—.  Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I.  Ed. Alexander Pettit and Margo Collins.  Vol. 3.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2000. Print.

—.  The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy.  Ed. John Richetti.  Lexington:  UP of Kentucky, 2005.  Print.

—.  The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless.  Ed. Christine Blouch.  Peterborough:  Broadview P, 1998.  Print.

King, Kathryn R.  A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2012.  Print.  Eighteenth-Century Political Biographies; No. 9.

Mackie, Erin Skye.  Rakes, Highwaymen, and Pirates:  The Making of the Modern Gentleman in the Eighteenth Century. Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins UP, 2014.  Print.

Pope, Alexander.  The Dunciad.  Ed. James Sutherland.  3d. ed. rev.  New Haven:  Yale UP, 1963.  Print.

Powell, Manushag N.  Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century English Periodicals.  Lewisburg, PA:  Bucknell UP, 2012.  Print.

Richetti, John.  “Histories by Eliza Haywood and Henry Fielding:  Imitation and Adaptation.”  The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood:  Essays on Her Life and Work.  Ed. Kirsten Saxton and Rebecca Bocchicchio.  Lexington:  UP of Kentucky, 2000.  240-58.  Print.

—.  “Popular Narrative in the Early Eighteenth Century:  Formats and Formulas.”  The English Novel, Volume I:  1700 to Fielding.  Ed. Richard Kroll.  New York:  Routledge, 2013. 70-106.  Print.

Tague, Ingrid H.  Animal Companions:  Pets and Social Change in Eighteenth-Century Britain.  University Park, PA:  The Pennsylvania State UP, 2015.  Print.

Thomas, Keith.  Man and the Natural World:  A History of the Modern Sensibility.  London: Allen Lane, 1983.  Print.

Veiled Intent: Dissenting Women’s Aesthetic Approach to Biblical Interpretation

veiledintentIn the long eighteenth century, attitudes towards a woman lifting her voice within the religious public sphere varied denominationally.  In differentiation from Anglican and Presbyterian communities, Quakers accepted the idea of women preaching from the mid-seventeenth century onwards.  The process in the Methodist church was more gradual.  Though female Methodists were preaching by 1787, at first they could only share their personal conversion narrative or give an “exhortation” as long as they avoided the “taking of a text.”  In other words, a woman could lead through public speech, as long as she did not quote from the Bible.  Little wonder women needed to veil their biblical interpretation in forms viewed as acceptably feminine when writing for print.  Within Presbyterian and Congregationalist communities women were not engaged in public speaking at all, which is perhaps why they channeled their biblical interpretation so powerfully into poetry, hymns, plays, letters, and even novels, as well as essays on taste and aesthetics.  Extremely learned women in these Dissenting communities deployed their significant knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and theology in composing book-length works containing substantial biblical hermeneutics written from a female standpoint.

These women Dissenters focused on biblical content often overlooked by male biblical commentators.  Phillis Wheatley and Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck analyzed biblical stories of the weak overcoming the strong (e.g., David and Goliath) as a veiled analogy for women’s fight against systemic oppression.  Presbyterians Anna Barbauld, Helen Maria Williams, and Joanna Baillie explored biblical birth and mothering metaphors for God’s omnipotence, contra Edmund’s Burke’s focus on divine wrath.  Women cloaked their substantial biblical exegesis in works such as Poems on Various Subjects:  Religious and Moral (Phillis Wheatley, 1773), Hymns in Prose for Children (Anna Barbauld, 1781), A Poem on the Bill Lately Passed for Regulating the Slave Trade (Helen Maria Williams, 1788), and Poems, Wherein it is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and Rustic Manners (Joanna Baillie, 1790).  If modern readers pay careful attention, they will hear these women preaching through their printed works.

Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck, one of the first women to publish a comprehensive work of biblical interpretation in English, witnessed the empowerment of women’s voices within eighteenth-century Quaker and Methodist communities before eventually becoming a Moravian.  The Moravians were a somewhat experimental spiritual community to which William Blake’s mother – Catherine Wright Armitage Blake – belonged.  Schimmelpenninck was an anti-slavery activist and philosopher who referenced the work of Anna Barbauld and Joanna Baillie repeatedly in her prose.  Her modestly titled book Biblical Fragments (1826) draws on the church fathers and cites passages of the Old Testament in Hebrew to contest the King James translation.  Schimmelpenninck also boldly transcends historical divides between Protestants and Catholics by praising the biblical interpretation of seventeenth-century French nuns.  Her ground breaking ecumenical work has been undervalued in histories of Dissenting women’s social activism and the scriptural engagement that undergirded it.

My book Veiled Intent: Dissenting Women’s Aesthetic Approach to Biblical Interpretation asks how eighteenth-century dissenting women writers were able to ensure their unique biblical interpretation was preserved for posterity.  And how did their careful yet shrewd tactics spur early nineteenth-century women writers into vigorous theological debate?  Why did the biblical engagement of such women prompt their commitment to causes such as the antislavery movement?  Veiled Intent traces the pattern of tactical moves and counter-moves deployed by Anna Barbauld, Phillis Wheatley, Helen Maria Williams, Joanna Baillie, and Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck.  These female poets and philosophers veiled provocative hermeneutical claims and calls for social action within aesthetic forms of discourse viewed as more acceptably feminine forms of expression.  In between the lines of their published hymns, sonnets, devotional texts for children, and works of aesthetic theory, the perceptive reader finds striking theological insights shared from a particularly female perspective.  These women were not only courageously interjecting their individual viewpoints into a predominantly male domain of formal study–biblical hermeneutics–but also intentionally supporting each other in doing so.  Their publications reveal that they were drawn to biblical imagery of embodiment and birth, to stories of the apparently weak vanquishing the tyrannical on behalf of the oppressed, and to the metaphor of Christ as strengthening rock.

Seduction or Assault? Eliza Haywood and the Eighteenth-Century Rape Culture of Today

Jacob Gole's Susanne, surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards.  Mezzotint on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper.  Sheet: 10 7/16 x 7 11/16 inches (26.5 x 19.5 cm) Plate: 10 x 7 3/16 inches (25.4 x 18.2 cm) Image: 9 5/16 x 7 1/8 inches (23.6 x 18.1 cm).  Inscribed in graphite, on back, lower center: "405"; on back, lower right: "27431", Lettered in black ink, lower left: "Ces deux infames scelerats | Ne pouvant assouvir leurs impudiques flames;"; lower center: "Susanne surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards."; lower right: "Veulent faire perir la plus chaste des femmes; | Mais Dieu punit leur attentats. | J. Gole fec: et ecx: Amstelog: cum Privil."  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

Jacob Gole’s Susanne, surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards. Mezzotint on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper. Sheet: 10 7/16 x 7 11/16 inches (26.5 x 19.5 cm) Plate: 10 x 7 3/16 inches (25.4 x 18.2 cm) Image: 9 5/16 x 7 1/8 inches (23.6 x 18.1 cm). Inscribed in graphite, on back, lower center: “405”; on back, lower right: “27431”, Lettered in black ink, lower left: “Ces deux infames scelerats | Ne pouvant assouvir leurs impudiques flames;”; lower center: “Susanne surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards.”; lower right: “Veulent faire perir la plus chaste des femmes; | Mais Dieu punit leur attentats. | J. Gole fec: et ecx: Amstelog: cum Privil.” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

How could some three-hundred-year-old author interest me?” modern students gasp with dismay.  But the century that coined the term “rape culture” has a lot to learn from eighteenth-century writers like Eliza Haywood because although we might have invented the term, we only inherited the concept.  Haywood would be dismayed to find just how much hasn’t changed in this century of female “equality.”  Consider this 2013 interview with tennis star Serena Williams in the wake of the Steubenville rape trial:  “[Those boys] did something stupid […] but why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? […] she shouldn’t have put herself in that position…”

 

This is rape culture at its finest:  Young victims accused of  “willingly behaving like a drunken whore,” while their rapists have only “[done] something stupid.”  It’s a modern problem, we say, because “back in the day,” men knew how to treat a lady, and ladies knew how to behave.  But Haywood teaches us that rape happens when we train women to value attracting men above independence, and more importantly, when we encourage men to devalue and sexualize women.

 

In the early-eighteenth century, Haywood quickly became known as the queen of romance, but her work encompassed more than today’s Danielle Steel.  An actress and author, she wrote in every existing genre—all as a single mother of two.  Throughout her work, she stresses the dangers of a society that encourages women to be sexually attractive, yet blames them for attracting sexual assault.  Her characters struggle against the label of ‘whore’ for saying “yes,” but ‘liar’ for saying “no;” they ‘bloom unseen’ at home, but ‘spoil’ themselves by leaving; they live in a world where sleeping can be an invitation for sex.  

 

Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze (1725) is perhaps Haywood’s most intriguing example of amatory fiction, and it provides a good case study for understanding the similarities between contemporary rape culture and the sexual conventions of the eighteenth century.  The protagonist of Fantomina is not unlike many contemporary victims of rape; she is an attractive young woman who finds herself on the brink of adulthood.  Fantomina is also uneducated in the ways of the world and is naturally vain and curious.  A social butterfly, Fantomina frequents the theatre and there observes prostitutes interacting freely with gentlemen.  Curious, Fantomina visits the theatre the next night dressed as a prostitute in order to try her hand at what she assumes is flirting.  The narrator indicates that Fantomina does not understand the gravity of a young gentlewoman playing at this game, and the night ends with her being solicited by a gentleman by the name of Beauplaisir.  

 

Though a gentleman, it is socially accepted that Beauplaisir might solicit the favors of prostitutes while also courting virginal young women for a potential wife.  This double standard, which mirrors contemporary society’s penchant for shaming sexually active young women, yet sympathizing with young men, situates Fantomina’s role-playing on very risky ground.  Haywood describes Fantomina as sexually excited yet very confused by Beauplaisir’s direct solicitation of her body:  “strange and unaccountable were the whimsies she was possessed of, wild and incoherent her desires, unfixed and determined her resolutions” (Haywood 44).  At this point, the similarities between drunkenness and Fantomina’s state should be very clear:  diction such as “strange,” “unaccountable,” “wild,” and “incoherent” lead the reader to believe that Fantomina is sexually aroused to the point of deep confusion.  Beauplaisir arrives at Fantomina’s lodging, but what ensues is most certainly rape.  The scene is worth repeating here to show the juxtaposition between what Fantomina thinks she wants and what Beauplaisir takes from her:

 

She had now gone too far to retreat.  He was bold; he was resolute; she, fearful, confused, altogether unprepared to resist in such encounters [because she is a virgin], and rendered more so by the extreme liking she had to him.  Shocked, however, at the apprehension of really losing her honour [her virginity], she struggled all she could.

 (Haywood 46, our emphasis)

 

The syntax in the first sentence parallels Beauplaisir’s forcefulness with Fantomina’s fear.  She does not consent; she is punished for her sexual curiosity.  She is ruined while he is satiated.  Even after Fantomina’s confession that she is really a gentle-born virgin who did not understand the implications of going to the theatre dressed as a prostitute, he continues to take advantage of her by using her as a mistress until sex with her becomes “tasteless” and “insipid” (Haywood 50).  This would seem like Haywood chooses to punish the young Fantomina, but the story does not end there.  Fantomina reinvents herself three more times in order to attract Beauplaisir, and he takes advantage of each “new” woman every time.  Creating her own sexual agency, Fantomina’s plot is foiled only by pregnancy and Beauplaisir’s refusal to ask for her hand in marriage—a sharp reminder from Haywood that female sexual agency is short-lived in a world where women are punished for both desire and innocence.

 

In another novel from Haywood’s amatory repertoire, Love in Excess; or The Fatal Inquiry (1719-1720), Haywood readers learn that seduction/rape is not the woman’s fault; it springs from false male perceptions of women (rape culture).  Like Fantomina, the novel shows one man, Delmont, taking repeated advantage of women’s love, confusion, and fear of reprisal to press them for sex.  In one such encounter, the woman is labeled a whore and sent to a convent for sneaking out to meet him; he escapes without blame.  But, Haywood doesn’t believe women can prevent rape by staying home.  Delmont’s next amour is a young woman living in his home as his ward.  Though she’s fallen for him, he is married, so she strives to avoid him.  Relentless, Delmont breaks into Melliora’s room while she sleeps.  In his mind, her feelings for him mean “yes,” and in his home, she is fair game.  Melliora is in a ‘drunken’ dream state and unknowingly responds to his advances.  Reading her unconscious failure to fight him as consent, he “[seizes] her;” she awakens in protest (“What is this?” “leave me”), but he claims he would be less of a man if he stopped now (Haywood 117).  

 

This is important.  Haywood shows that men can control their sexual urges, but male culture teaches them otherwise.  Like Beauplaisir, Delmont has learned to take advantage of women whenever he can.  His friend Despernay calls him a fool for not molesting MellioraHow could “‘a man of wit […] let slip so favourable an opportunity.’”  Despernay insists that ‘no’ means ‘yes’:  “Women are taught by custom,” he explains, “to deny what most they covet, and to seem angry when they are best pleased.”  When Delmont balks at “ruin[ing] such sweetness,” his friend sneers that not pressing for sex would be an insult to his–and every man’s–masculinity (Haywood 113).  

 

What Melliora and Fantomina show us is that for eighteenth-century women, the body is not one’s own.  In states of psychic shutdown, Melloira and Fantomina appear drunk and disordered and are therefore fair game.  Governed by the laws of strict social code, women’s bodies are available to men (who are taught to take advantage wherever possible).  Sound familiar?  Beauplaisir’s and Delmont’s names could easily be changed to those of the Steubenville rapists, and Fantomina and Melloira could be the Jane Doe of the Stuebenville case or any of the nameless women who never report rape because they assume they won’t be taken seriously.  Ultimately, what we see here are the ruinous effects of misunderstandings about women’s bodies and who controls them, and Eliza Haywood has much to offer today’s students regarding the history of such control and its brutal effects on women.

 

 

Works Cited:

Haywood, Eliza.  Fantomina and Other Works.  Ed.  Alexander Petit, et al.  Ontario:  Broadview Press Ltd., 2004.  Print.

 

—–.  Love in Excess.  Ed. David Oakleaf.  Ontario:  Broadview Press, 1996. Print.

 

 

 

“Man, are you capable of being just?”: Fighting for Women’s Rights Then and Now

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, "The English Lady at Paris" (1771).  Gray wash with black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper.  Sheet: 12 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches (31.8 x 24.4 cm).  Inscribed in gray ink, lower left: "S H Grimm fecit 1771"; in gray ink, center right: "To Alderman | Paris"; in brown ink, verso, upper center: "The English lady at Paris - No. 8.", Signed and dated in gray ink, lower left: "S H Grimm fecit 1771"  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, “The English Lady at Paris” (1771). Gray wash with black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper. Sheet: 12 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches (31.8 x 24.4 cm). Inscribed in gray ink, lower left: “S H Grimm fecit 1771”; in gray ink, center right: “To Alderman | Paris”; in brown ink, verso, upper center: “The English lady at Paris – No. 8.”, Signed and dated in gray ink, lower left: “S H Grimm fecit 1771” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

We often think of feminism as something belonging to the twentieth century.  But in 1791, Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) wrote:  “Man, are you capable of being just?  It is a woman who asks you this question…  Tell me, what gives you sovereign empire over my sex?”  The first lines of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizeness might seem, to many of us, ahead of their time.  De Gouges responded to the lauded and well-respected Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) by publishing a feminized form of the text two years later.  In it, she demands access to the political sphere for women and imagines a re-conceptualized form of marriage.

De Gouges was not, however, the only feminist of her time.  The French Revolution saw several women’s rights activists, and her ideas evolved along with and responded to the chaotic and rapidly changing events of her era.  Like that of many of her contemporaries, de Gouges’s story ends in tragedy:  she was executed in 1793.  Her other progressive ideas—which she took pains to make public—did not aid her in her cause.  She argued against slavery and was openly hostile to Maximilien Robespierre (whom she invited to a duel!).  To this day, the circumstances leading to her death and execution remain a subject of debate.  Was she killed, as so many others, because of her support for the king or was the fact that she was a woman more to blame?  What was the effect of the abolitionist play that she published in 1792?  There are compelling arguments that all of these issues helped bring about her demise.  De Gouges was tried soon after the Girondins, many of them abolitionists, including Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  Madame Roland, and Marie Antoinette were also killed during the same month-long span as de Gouges.  A Jacobin newspaper suggested cruelly just days after their deaths that these women had somehow deserved their fates.[1]

De Gouges’s story is long and complex, but in this short blog piece I will focus on her legacy.  She has, in the past two hundred years, been considered a maligned revolutionary, a disregarded loon, and an inspiring martyr.  The story of how we remember this early feminist reveals more about us than it does about her.  It also offers a poignant example of the continued importance of studying the eighteenth century.

Marie Gouze was born in Montauban in southern France in 1748.  Though her parents were not noble, she claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Pompignon (1709-1784), also a playwright.[2]  The date that she arrived in Paris is somewhat unclear, but she fashioned a name for herself among the aristocracy and became Olympe de Gouges in the 1780s.  During this time, she was involved in a long-lasting controversy with the Comédie Française about the performance of her abolitionist play—which finally occurred in December 1789.[3]  Abolitionism was one of many political issues about which this playwright made her opinion known.  The Revolution seemed to respond to her ardent desire to change the world for the better:  she joined the abolitionist Société des Amis des Noirs, attempted to raise money for young women’s dowries, and opposed the common practice of sending unmarried women to convents.  An enslaved female character in her 1792 play, L’Esclavage des Noirs, ou l’heureux naufrage, declared boldly that slaves “would not always be in chains.”[4]  In her letters written from prison in 1793, she seems sincerely befuddled that her ardent political fervor would have endangered her life, but it did.

A burst of what we would read today as admirable activity demanding women’s equal rights ended tragically in 1793 and was replaced by outright hostility.  The century following the French Revolution was not the most progressive period for women’s rights in France.  They lost the right to divorce.  The feminist movements of the 1830s and 1840s argued for women’s inclusion in the public sphere based on their innate emotional nature.[5]  These arguments for rights look very different than those of the Revolution and often seem less than radical to the modern reader.  By the end of the nineteenth century, ideas of hysteria contributed to a false but powerful notion of women’s innate biological inferiority.  Women did not win the right to vote in France until 1944.

De Gouges’s legacy as a forgotten and maligned woman who was not respected for her political positions began with the Jacobin newspaper article claiming that she deserved her fate.  She was quickly remembered as someone who somehow deserved to die for her beliefs, then she became an historical figure who was largely forgotten.  When she was remembered, she was belittled.  In the mid-nineteenth century, historian Jules Michelet dismissed her as an illiterate, weak-minded woman caught up in a world she did not and could not understand.[6]  In the late 1850s, Charles Monselet condescendingly explained her desire to write by what must have been her fear of becoming unattractive after thirty.[7]  At the end of the nineteenth century, early psychologists examined her works in detail for proof of rampant hysteria among female revolutionaries.  Alfred Guillois’s 1904 work on the playwright studied her œuvre as “the document that best allows [us] to judge the disorder of her judgment and reasoning abilities.”[8]  Guillois read through her medical records to find proof of some kind of disorder that would make her belief in women’s rights understandable.  Appallingly, a century after her death, daring to claim that women deserved equality was understood to be a psychological condition.

Happily, feminist scholars have done significant work to revive the legacy of de Gouges in the last few decades.  Simone de Beauvoir wrote about her in The Second Sex (1949).  In 2011, her Declaration became available in its entirety in English.  In 2010, her philosophical text, Le Prince Philosophe, was added to the many of her works already available in German.  Former French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal just published a book on stories of courage, including de Gouges’s.  There are now streets and schools named after her in France.  De Gouges is now revered rather than reviled.

I would like to suggest that when we think of feminism as a phenomenon unique to our time, it is due, at least in part, to this long period of hostility—a time during which de Gouges was either maligned or forgotten rather than respected.  Her ideas—though over 200 years old—are actually quite modern and often remain, even today, revolutionary.  De Gouges fought ardently, albeit sometimes imperfectly, for the rights of society’s many downtrodden.  How we have remembered her fight shows us that progress toward equality is perhaps more cyclical than linear, which means that the past has much more to teach us than we often imagine.

 

Further Reading on Olympe de Gouges, Her Life and Times:

Beauvoir, Simone de. Le Deuxième Sexe.  Volume II. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.

Blanc, Olivier.  Marie-Olympe de Gouges:  une humaniste à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Paris:  René Viénet, 2003.

Diamond, Marie Josephine.  “The Revolutionary Rhetoric of Olympe de Gouges.”  Feminist Issues 14, no. 1 (1994):  3.

Dorigny, Marcel, and Bernard Gainot.  La Société des amis des noirs, 1788-1799Paris:  Editions UNESCO:  1998.

Kadish, Doris and Françoise Massardier-Kenney, eds. Translating Slavery:  Gender and Race in French Abolitionist Writing, 1780-1830.  Volume 1. Kent, Ohio:  Kent State University Press, 2009.

—.  Translating Slavery:  Gender and Race in French Abolitionist Writing, 1780-1830Volume 2.  Kent, Ohio:  Kent State University Press, 2010.

Ripa, Yannick.  Les Femmes, actrices de l’HistoireParis:  Sedes, 1999.

Mousset, Sophie.  Women’s Rights and the French Revolution:  A Biography of Olympe de Gouges.  Trans. Joy Poirel.  London:  Transaction Publishers, 2007.

Scott, Joan W.  “A Woman Who Has Only Paradoxes to Offer,” in Sarah Melzer and Leslie Rabine, eds.  Rebel Daughters:  Women and the French Revolution.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1992.

Vanpée, J.  “La Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la citoyenne:  Olympe de Gouges’s Re-Writing of La Déclaration des Droits de l’homme,” in Literate Women and the French Revolution of 1789.  Summa Publications:  Birmingham, Alabama, 1994.


[1] Feuille du Salut Public:  Septidi Brumaire l’An 2e de la République, 3-4.

[2] Pompignon, Jean-Jacques Lefranc de.  Didon:  Tragédie en cinq actes et en vers.  Paris:  Chez la Veuve Duchesne, 1781.

[3] You can find all three versions of her play, along with information about the battle with the theatre, in Sylvie Chalaye’s 2006 reedition of L’Esclavage des nègres, ou, l’heureux naufrage.

[4]L’Esclavage des Nègres, Act II, Scene II. 

[5]For more information on this subject, see the work of Claire Goldberg Moses and Naomi Andrews.

[6] Jules Michelet, Les Femmes de la Révolution (Paris:  Adolphe Delahays, 1855), 105-107.

[7] Charles Monselet, Les Oubliés et les Dédaignés:  Figures littéraires de la fin du 18e siècle (Alençon:  PouletMalassis et de Broise, 1857).

[8] Alfred Guillois, Etude médico-psychologique sur Olympe de Gouges: considérations générales sur la mentalité des femmes pendant la Révolution française (Lyon:  A. Rey, 1904), 59.  My translation.

Celebrity Couture: A New Trend? Fashionista Mary Robinson Led the Way – Over 230 Years Ago

Celebrity Couture: A New Trend? Fashionista Mary Robinson Led the Way – Over 230 Years Ago

There’s no question that celebrity style has long had an impact on the fashion world—think Beau Brummell, Lillie Langtry, Jean Harlow, Katherine Hepburn.  The question is how new is the celebrity-cum-couturier?  The life of the British actress Mary Robinson (1757?-1800) would suggest that celebrity clothing and accessory lines are, in fact, nothing new.

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

It is November 1794. The French Revolution has taken a sharp turn for the worse, and Britain and France have been at war for well over a year and a half. The English have recently witnessed the Treason Trials and the suspension of Habeas Corpus at home and the September Massacres, the Reign of Terror, the Glorious First of June, and the execution of Robespierre across the Channel. Soldiers are dying, the British government is hunting down spies and locking up radicals, and the nation is in a state of social and political unrest. It is at this time, at the very height of this tension, that Mary Robinson—the former actress, fashion icon, celebrity sensation, and mistress of the Prince of Wales—debuted her two-act comedy Nobody at London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The 29 November 1794 performance did not go well.

350 Years of Dangerous Women

350 Years of Dangerous Women

Kathleen Winsor’s historical romance Forever Amber (1944) and Laura Linker’s Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures, and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730 (Ashgate 2011).

Cultivating Philosophy in the Epicurean Garden

Cultivating Philosophy in the Epicurean Garden

The physical garden was to Sir William Temple and other Epicureans a reflection of one’s mental landscape, and in the best of all possible worlds, one would stay in the garden–a position that Voltaire would later and more famously endorse in Candide. Like seventeenth-century definitions of wit, Temple’s philosophy of the garden expresses a balance of judgment and fancy, those gendered faculties of the mind, and an appropriate blend of reason and passion. The act of gardening for Temple was the practice of freeing the self from the disordered passions, unavoidable but capable of being subdued like wild weeds. One needs only a patch of earth, a shovel, and a life of the mind.